Monday, February 26, 2007

Koffer Angst

After a long and tiring day back to Mainz, I boarded the IC back to Heidelberg. While looking for a seat, I noticed a black suitcase that had been left between two of the cars. I've heard "please report any unattended packages" enough at airports and T stations to have been a little suspicious but I just kept going. In the next car after the suitcase I found a seat and plopped down.
Not long later, a police officer came into the car and went through the aisle asking everyone if they had forgotten a black suitcase. Hmm, not cool. I started to think about moving to the other end of the train. Of course, that would require going past the suitcase. Hmm.
A bit later, while I was still contemplating, the choice was made for me. A Deutsche Bahn official came through and evacuated our car. Everyone had to move to the next one down. Wow! Much more serious than I had thought.
The next stop was Mannheim and everything went as normal. We continued on to Heidelberg, the train's last stop. I walked past the place where I had seen the suitcase earlier and it wasn't there. I became quite curious: what happened to the suitcase? Did they just take it off the train at Mannheim?

A year or two ago there was a suitcase found under a bench across the circle from my office in Boston. The bench wasn't really near anything but a minor bus stop and some bushes. My officemates and I watched as a bomb squad arrived in full uniform. The circle was completely cleared of people. News vans were there. The bomb squad wired up the suitcase, walked far away, and detonated the suitcase, right under the bench where it had been found. It turned out it was just full of clothes.
I wonder how this situation on the train would have been handled if it were in the US?


  1. I've never seen an unattended package on a train in the US. However, I often see armed people in uniform (national guard) at Penn Station in NYC. Once, they were even at our end-of-the-line station in Ronkonkoma. (I think there was some general alert for New York City transportation then.) I don't know if these measures were in place before 2001, but I assume not.

  2. Dude, in the US they would have shut down the entire Deutsch Bahn system for the entire, evacuated all the trains, raised the terror alert level to red, and threatened to prosecute everyone and anyone who happened to look sideways at the suitcase. You heard about the whole Adult Swim thing!

  3. I traveled in Spain and Israel back in 1980. Given all the terrorist attacks these two countries had been going through, a strict policy of blowing up suspicious packages was universally accepted. In Israel, they once even blew up a felafel-stuffed pita pocket that had been left on the sidewalk.

    I sometimes wonder at how lax security is on the German ICE trains. A bomb ripping through a holiday-packed train racing at full tilt could be even more destructive than blowing a 747 out of the sky, yet there are no bag searches before you board, no opening up the laptop bag, nichts. The reason? It simply hasn't happened. Not yet, anyway.

  4. No, ian, the reason is that this situation every day would be worse for millions of travelers than the 0.0000000001%-chance of being blasted up. (Every trip on the Autobahn is much more hazardous but no one demands to close them...)

    Life is dangerous, everywhere everytime. But it doesn't make it better if I get filmed everywhere everytime. I hate that. And much more I hate someone looking into my bags.

    And I think I'm speaking for the majority of still-not-enough-frightened-by-the-media-and-CDU in that ;)

  5. Boring guy,
    I know what you mean - I find it amazing that they treat the statistic of 5,000 traffic deaths in one year in Germany as good news, simply because the number is falling every year.
    But you can bet that if a high-speed train is ever blown up like that plane over Lockerbie was, then airport-style checks would follow. I wouldn't want to see it either.

  6. Mary: I think you are right re: the timing of the additional security. T security was certainly ramped up in Boston after 9/11, though I'm not sure it did much good.

    Sara: Don't forget the news vans.

    Ian & boring german guy: I laughed out loud at the image of exploding falafel, though I guess it's not all that hilarious of a matter in the end! Of course you are both right that the kind of security that would truly prevent a train bombing is far too inefficient and expensive to ever work. If a train were bombed I would guess security would briefly increase but return to normal after a bit. Whenever security in Boston became nervous (ie, after the Madrid train bombings) there would be ridiculously increased security on the T for a week or less, then back to the usual. It was SORT of comical....and sort of not. Hmm, almost black comedy, I suppose.

  7. The thing is, that people must forget packages all the time, in all countries. I wonder if there was some additional element in the suitcase incident that made the police suspicious.

  8. I was here in the 1980s, and there were quite a few real bombings during those days ... I was "blowed up" during a layover here and read about at least two other bombings in the Frankfurt area that year. I'm not so worried about all the suitcases being carried on, but I do take notice of the ones that aren't being carried off.


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